Timbers triumphant in Portland debut

Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

Fireworks over Jeld-Wen Field during the Portland Timbers' first MLS game on April 14, 2011.

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by KGW.com and AP staff

kgw.com

Posted on April 14, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 15 at 2:21 PM

PORTLAND -- It was a sporting night to remember in Portland.

With a national audience watching on ESPN2, the Portland Timbers got their first Major League Soccer victory in their rain-drenched home opener against the Chicago Fire on Thursday night.

Video: Highlights from the Timbers victory

Jorge Perlaza scored two goals, while Rodney Wallace added another for the Timbers in the 4-2 win at Jeld-Wen Field. Midfielder Marco Pappa scored for the Fire (1-2-1).

Portland (1-2-1) started the season on the road while $31 million in improvements were completed to make their downtown stadium more soccer friendly.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber was at the sold-out match, as was Portland Mayor Sam Adams. A number of the Portland Trail Blazers -- the city's other professional sports team -- were also there, including Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills and Wesley Matthews.

Photos: Timbers home opener

The Timbers Army, the team's independent fan group, was given the honor of singing the national anthem. Afterward, they unfurled a banner which proclaimed "It takes an army to raise a club."

"You haven't seen that in American soccer, to be honest," Timbers coach John Spencer said about the atmosphere. "It was tremendous."

Raw Video: From Timbers Army section (diazoesp)

The Timbers started 20-year-old New Zealander Jake Gleeson in goal. Gleeson had started the season as Portland's third option, but both veteran Troy Perkins and backup Adin Brown went down with injuries.

Complete coverage: Portland Timbers

The match was played in almost steady rain, typical of Portland this time of year. The new turf at Jeld-Wen Field was so soaked that the ball splashed at times when it bounced.

The Timbers (1-2-1) appeared to strike first in the 11th minute, with Kenny Cooper's header into the net off captain Jack Jewsbury's corner kick. But the goal was disallowed because Jewsbury's cross curled out of bounds.

The home fans had to wait until the 29th minute when forward Perlaza beat Chicago keeper Sean Johnson on a breakaway. Fire defenseman Cory Gibbs bumped heads with a Timbers' defender on the play and had to be helped off the field.

The Timbers extended the lead with an unassisted goal by Wallace in the 37th minute. After the break, Perlaza scored on a rebound after Johnson misplayed an initial save in the 47th minute.

"It is an indescribable feeling," Perlaza said through a translator. "I hope I can keep scoring, keep playing to the best of my ability."

Photos: Meet the MLS Timbers team

The Fire avoided the shutout in the 65th minute on Timbers defenseman Eric Brunner's own goal. Pappa added a left-footed strike that sailed over Gleeson's outstretched arms in the 81st minute.

Fire defenseman Dansan Robinson was charged with an own goal in the final minutes.

"To get that first league win is so big and so important," said forward Kenny Cooper. "Hopefully we can push off from here."

The Fire were coming off a 2-1 loss at the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. The Timbers opened with losses at Colorado and Toronto before a 1-all draw at New England.

Portland has been home to the Timbers in one incarnation or another since 1975. The Timbers were born that year as part of the North American Soccer League and they were successful at the start, advancing to the league's championship game.

More: Exhibit features original Timbers memorabilia

Because of the excitement surrounding that team, Portland was dubbed "Soccer City, USA." The moniker has seen a revival with the arrival of MLS.

The Timbers sold out their season tickets earlier this year and now there's a waiting list. The single game tickets are mostly gone, too. The Oregon House of Representatives jumped on the bandwagon on Wednesday by declaring Thursday "Timbers Day" in Oregon.

Timbers' fan Phil Kennedy, standing in the cold spring drizzle while waiting to get into the stadium on Thursday summed up the feeling of many fans.

"Best day ever," he said.

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